How do I deal with treating a toddler?


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Ah, toddlers—those delightful, creative bundles of pure kinetic energy. Except when they’re sick. Then they can become clingy bundles of unhappiness.

This makes a lot of sense when you consider that a toddler has little to no comprehension of what’s going on inside and little way of expressing himself. Add in the fact that most toddlers inherently distrust strangers (at least initially), and you have a challenging patient on your hands.

Tip #1: Broaden your focus to include the whole family. You’ll have much better luck if you include mom, dad and any other involved family members in the toddler’s care. The toddler trusts his family, and his family can probably interpret his signs and words far better than you can. The family can also fill you in on the toddler’s regular schedule, likes and dislikes. Try to adhere to his normal schedule as much as possible. His parents will thank you!

Tip #2: Expect regression. The toddler years are all about developing independence, but when sick, a toddler may want to be held and carried. The child who weaned six months ago may want to drink from a bottle again, and a recently potty-trained child may suddenly start wetting the bed. Some regression during illness is normal, so let the child lead. He’ll tell you what he needs.

Tip #3: Prepare for physical differences. Be sure you have appropriate-size equipment (such as a child BP cuff) and adapt your care to the toddler’s smaller size. IVs, for instance, should be inserted in the hand or the feet, if possible, and injections should be given in the Vastus Lateralis muscle, which can be easily restrained.

Tip #4: Keep him safe. Toddlers are inherently curious, so make sure that all medical equipment is kept out of reach. Cover IV sites, if necessary, and prepare a crib for the child, even if he sleeps in a bed at home.

Tip #5: Involve the toddler in his care whenever possible. Introduce yourself and interact with the child before beginning his care. Ask him to show you his favorite toy, and demonstrate any procedures before you begin. (If he has a stuffed friend, listen to Teddy’s heart first.) Encourage the child to “help” you as much as possible and praise his participation.

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2 Responses to How do I deal with treating a toddler?

  1. Nicole

    About Tip #1: Could not agree more! Mom knows best and will in most cases be one of the sole people able to calm the frightened child. Children will be more likely to allow you into their space if their mom says it is okay. I will say that sometimes tense and uneasy parents can make a scared child even more scared and can turn the hospital experience into a more frightening one for the child when they are scared themselves. That’s why education for the family is just as important as education for the toddler, just in a different manner. Be sure to be honest with the parents about procedures and plan of care for the child so they can participate in care in a productive way!

  2. LPN Sarah

    The most important concept to remember when dealing with a child is to show them what you are going to do first, talk to them, be honest if something is going to hurt a little so there are no surprises.

    This builds trust and rapport. Keep their room a safe place for them. If there is a treatment room on the floor that you can use for procedures such as IV insertions, use it so the patient does not associate hurtful procedures with their room. Allow them to touch and help with everything you are doing.